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Ebola Returns to Liberia Weeks After It Was Declared Free of Virus

A 17-year-old boy who died earlier this week tested positive for the virus one month and 20 days after the West African country was officially declared Ebola free.
Imagen por Abbas Dulleh/AP

Liberia has placed households under quarantine in a coastal village and officials have launched an investigation after a 17-year-old boy who died there tested positive for Ebola, striking a blow to recovery efforts in the West Africa country one month and 20 days after officially being declared free of the virus.

After he died at home on Sunday, the boy's family reported the death to the country's burial team, who then tested the corpse for the deadly hemorrhagic fever that has killed more than 11,000 people in West Africa since December 2013.


Assistant Health Minister Tolbert Nyenswah confirmed the news in a Ministry of Health statement, telling the Associated Press that Liberia had a "reinfection of Ebola."

"Specimen from the remains of a 17-year-old corpse tested positive on two occasions after our burial team moved into the village and safely took the specimen before safe burial of the corpse," he told local outlet Front Page Africa, which broke the news on Monday night.

"We have listed 27 contacts and more to come. It is under control, we buried the corpse safely and our team will beef up work in the surrounding areas," Nyenswah told the outlet.

With community health teams still trying to figure out how the boy contracted the virus, authorities quarantined two homes in the Nedowein area of Montserrado county, located near the country's only international airport and about 30 miles from the capital Monrovia. Supplies for the affected families were reportedly being airlifted to the village.

Liberia was officially declared Ebola free on May 9, after it made the 42-day all clear milestone following the March 27 death of the last confirmed patient, believed to have contracted the virus through sexual intercourse with an Ebola survivor. Since the outbreak began in Guinea in December 2013, a total of 27,443 cases have been confirmed. Liberia saw the most deaths from the virus, with 4,806 dying from the disease compared to more than 3,900 in Sierra Leone and about 2,470 in Guinea.

It's unclear how this week's victim in Liberia may have contracted the virus, but it was potentially a result of travel to Ebola-infected countries or sexual intercourse with a recent Ebola survivor. Neighboring countries of Guinea and Sierra Leone have continued to report new cases of Ebola. A total of 20 confirmed cases were reported last week in both countries, including infections in the districts where capitals Conakry and Freetown are located.

As cases continue to crop up in Guinea and Sierra Leone, new infections in the northern Guinean prefecture of Boke have put bordering communities in Guinea Bissau on heightened alert.

Porous borders, families that span across all three countries, and the regularity in which borders are crossed for work and daily activities have all made vigilance at Liberia's borderlines imperative. Despite the Ebola-free declaration, Nyenswah and other officials have also stressed the importance for maintaining preventative measures like regular hand washing.